California senate signs bill to help housing-insecure students

The California State Senate unanimously passed legislation on Monday to help homeless college students retain access to financial aid in the midst of the pandemic, according to a press release from the office of Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel, the bill’s author.

If it becomes law, Assembly Bill 2416 will add homelessness, as defined by the federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, to the list of extenuating circumstances that colleges must consider when evaluating appeals from students who have lost financial aid, according to a fact sheet by the assemblymember. This would apply to schools in the University of California system, California State University system, private institutions and the 115 campuses under the California Community Colleges.

Certain requirements must be met for students to keep their financial aid, which comes in the form of programs such as the Cal Grant Program, California State Work-Study Program and the California DREAM Loan Program. The purpose of the bill is to maintain California students’ ability to keep their financial aid and stay enrolled until graduation, according to the press release.

Forty-one percent of students enrolled in a four-year college in America have experienced some form of housing insecurity, according to a survey by The Hope Center completed in May.

“Financial aid means the difference for many students between staying in school or abandoning their educational aspirations,” Debbie Raucher, a director at the John Burton Advocates for Youth –– a foster youth advocacy group and sponsor of the bill –– said in a statement. 

A July update of the United States Census Bureau Pulse Survey found that about 9.9 million American renters had “no confidence” in their ability to make rent this August. There are currently about 151,000 homeless people in California, and the number could further increase as fewer people make ends meet. Though Mayor London Breed on Tuesday extended San Francisco’s eviction moratorium until Dec. 1, the California moratorium on evictions is set to expire on Sept. 1. While Santa Clara county has extended its eviction moratorium, the state has been unable to formally extend it or provide relief on rent, leaving 4 million at risk of evictions by the end of next month, according to The Aspen Institute.

“For my family and millions of others, higher education was a pathway into the middle class,” Gabriel said for the press release. “At a time when nearly 20% of our community college students are struggling with homelessness amid a global pandemic, it is critical that we do everything possible to keep the doors of opportunity open for all.” 

The bill is now headed to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk, where he will decide whether or not to enact it into law by Sept. 5.